America needs to move toward a more rational way of administering elections – and beyond the stale debate in which Republicans complain about voter fraud and Democrats yell about voter suppression.
The primary kind of voter fraud that state ID laws could prevent – impersonation voter fraud – is rare and does not seem to have affected an election outcome in at least a generation. And Democrats exaggerate the number of people likely disenfranchised by state ID requirements.
This partisan fight over fraud versus suppression plays out not just among voters, but in the very way elections are run: Controversial rules like voter ID laws are enacted in most places on party-line votes in state legislatures. Further, state and county election rules are often administered by partisan elected officials (often without adequate training or resources). Partisanship and decentralization raise the risk of unfair and uneven treatment of voters.
We need a national solution. For federal elections, a nonpartisan US agency should register every eligible voter to vote and provide each one with a photographic identification card to be used for voting anywhere in the United States.
It would be up to the federal government to pay for the documentation, such as birth certificates, needed to verify identity. Voters would have the option to provide their thumbprint with the ID card, which could be used instead of the card at the polling place, or if the card is lost. When a person fills out a change of address card at the post office, voter registration would move automatically.
This solves a lot of problems: It minimizes voter registration fraud. It also eliminates the high costs for parties to register voters and for states and local government to maintain voter rolls and check for fraud. It prevents double voting across state lines. National registration and identification tackles fears of fraud and suppression in a fair, rational way.
Richard Hasen is a professor at the School of Law at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of “The Voting Wars: From Florida 2000 to the Next Election Meltdown.”